Academy of Art University Students Use Augmented Reality to Benefit Local Neighborhood

Academy of Art University students recently presented their work using augmented reality to the Chief Innovation Officer of the San Francisco Mayor's Office of Civic Innovation. Their efforts, if adopted, will help make San Francisco's renowned Tenderloin District safer for residents.

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No matter your passion, Academy of Art University in San Francisco, California, has offered the most innovative training for careers in design, entertainment, fine arts, and liberal arts since 1929. Within these basic categories lie a wide variety of specializations, including options for designing video games, smartphone applications, and other interactive technology. Recently, AAU’s School of Game Development (GAM) has embraced concepts bridging the department’s ability to create interactive technology with other fields, including communications.

In fact, some Academy of Art University GAM students recently presented their work using augmented reality to the Chief Innovation Officer of the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation. He toured the School of Game Development on November 28 to learn more about a new smartphone application called Tenderfeels. Their efforts, if adopted, will help make San Francisco’s renowned Tenderloin District safer for residents.

San Francisco’s Tenderloin District

Although bordered by affluent neighborhoods like Nob Hill and Downtown, San Francisco’s Tenderloin district has been described as ‘unsafe,’ ‘disgusting,’ and ‘a zoo.’ Approximately 25,000 people live within the quarter-square mile area. The neighborhood has the highest rate of poverty and violent crime in the city while also housing the greatest concentration of youth.

The Tenderloin District is rich in both seedy and fascinating history. It’s been a residential neighborhood since the Gold Rush and the entire neighborhood was destroyed by fires after the great earthquake of 1906. Shortly after, the Tenderloin district was rebuilt and filled with single room occupancy hotels. This affordable housing helped to usher in new immigrants and provide lodging for young couples and single people.

San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood is an ideal location to innovate and reimagine urban sustainability and the livability of a major American city. It is not only one of the most challenging neighborhoods in San Francisco, but also in America. Academy of Art University’s location in the heart of San Francisco gives our students unparalleled opportunities to use their artistic talents to contribute to refurbishing this classic locale.

How Does Tenderfeels Work?

Tenderfeels was created by a team of four AAU students who participated in an event sponsored by Tech in the Tenderloin along with the San Francisco Salvation Army Kroc Center. The goal of the event was to use augmented or virtual reality (AR/VR) to find civic and social solutions specific to San Francisco’s Tenderloin District. Academy of Art University School of Game Development students competed against students from schools such as Stanford University, University of California Berkeley, and Penn State University.

The Tenderfeels application uses AR to harvest real-time data from Tenderloin residents as they share their moods relating to their current surroundings. In an interview with Academy Art U News, a student on the team referenced the five emotional characters in the Pixar movie, “Inside Out.” Similar to these characters, residents using Tenderfeels can report in real time how they feel on each block within the Tenderloin district. The emotions range from ‘angry’ and ‘disgusted’ to ‘joyful’ and ‘happy.’

Other Tenderfeels app users can see the results in real time and see why a resident marked an area with a certain emotion. The overarching goal is to harvest this data and provide it to schools and government organizations who can use it to identify problem areas, with a view toward solving the issues revealed.

“It’s not Pokémon Go, but it’s actually taking on real-world, real life issues to try to make the city a better place. What’s done here can easily be extrapolated out to other cities,” said Steven Goodale, an instructor in AAU’s School of Game Development.

What is Augmented Reality?

With augmented reality (also called AR), graphics, sounds, and touch feedback are added into our natural world. Unlike virtual reality, which requires the user to inhabit an entirely virtual environment, augmented reality uses the existing natural environment and then overlays virtual information on top of it. Users of augmented reality “experience a new and improved world where virtual information is used as a tool to provide assistance in everyday activities.”

Whether students want to develop for AAA, mobile, or pioneer their own career path in indie development, AAU’s School of Game Development can teach the skills necessary to succeed in all areas of study including game design, programming, 3D modeling/texturing, concept art, UI/UX design, animation, rigging, visual effects, and emerging technologies like augmented reality and virtual reality.

Through interactive online courses or in the classroom setting, AAU’s talented faculty of active creatives lead students to embrace and build upon concepts that connect the department’s ability to create interactive technology with other fields, such as architecture, the arts, and even communications. Tenderfeels is a prime example of this collaboration.

Related: Jason Hope: Insights into Technology Development & the Internet of Things

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